I’m trying to figure out at what age I’ll become less concerned about what other people think of me. Because evidently, it’s not 48.
Every time I think I’m over it, a situation will pop up and *bam,* there goes the brain off to take guesses at whether I was slighted, whether I did something wrong, whether something I said was interpreted incorrectly or whether it’s just that the relationship I thought I had wasn’t actually it was. And, because I have a newly minted 14 year old with a growing 14 year old’s attitude, I’ve found that this condition now extends into what he thinks of me. Really? Why do my cheeks flush when he says I’m embarrassing him?! I’m FORTY-EIGHT years old…I should not CARE if I embarrass you. Yet, here we are.
I went thru a bit of this when I moved to Virginia (not the 14 year old part, the other women part) – although, in hindsight, I had a piece in it. I left Raleigh just knowing that I’d never lose touch with my Raleigh friends. And I didn’t lose touch with all of them, but many more than I thought immediately drifted out of my life. I really chalked it up to my immersion into family-hood and the importance of maintaining my focus while reading 72 parenting books. But now and then, when I was feeling sulky, I’d think ‘oh, I can’t believe so-and-so never checks on me or so-and-so hasn’t reached out’. I’d make a mental note to shoot them a quick check in and immediately lose track of said mental note.
I carried on, I had a wedding in the works, plugging away at an invite list that included 200-ish people, many of of whom were part of those elusive Raleigh folks. Fast forward to almost-the-wedding and the universe threw the brakes on hard – we were awoken early one morning, two weeks prior, to the news that my brother had been in a horrific accident. As soon as I heard the list of injuries (the multi-page, it just keeps getting worse list), I told Rich we wouldn’t be having the wedding. He agreed, knowing that a wedding without my brother, one of the most important people in my life, wouldn’t be one I wanted. I wanted to worry about his recovery and being available to help and planning visits north. We spent our ‘wedding weekend’ at the hospital, exactly where I needed to be.
We sent out a ‘postponed indefinitely’ note to the 200-ish guests and I kept driving north. No, the wedding didn’t matter. It wasn’t until months later that I realized I’d only heard back from about a quarter of those guests. Most likely during a sulky moment on the drive up or down I-95. Surely that was weird, right? Because it felt weird. That that many people – whom I considered close enough to invite to my wedding – weren’t so close that they would shoot a note saying something like ‘so sorry about your brother, sending prayers, thinking of your family, Fords are dangerous or can I bring a casserole?’
And then I felt even worse because I felt like that by noticing the pit of (what was it? abandonment?) in my stomach, that I was somehow dismissing the friends who did reach out. Which I wasn’t – I was so grateful for those friends. I was also pleasantly surprised to get texts or phone calls from some people that I never would have expected to reach out. Sally Field anyone? They care! More than I thought! So my drives (literally put me in a car and I will immediately begin overthinking something) became a mental shuffling of friend status. Fair? Probably not. But when the wedding finally did come around again, brother happily (though still very limpy) present, there were several promotions and demotions, the guest list slashed.
Rich often points out to me that my level of thoughtfulness often exceeds others’ and that that doesn’t necessarily make anyone else wrong or inconsiderate – it just means that my expectations are based on my level, not on reality. Did you get all that? Because I’m still working through it. It’s something about not stressing over whether you’re on the outs with someone just because they don’t bring you a casserole.
Sometimes I feel like I’d make the perfect pastor’s wife (only ironic because that’s what Rich started out as) – always at the ready to swoop into a crisis with offers of assistance. Sick parent? Here are some health care ideas. Leaky tub? Here’s the name of a plumber and carpet repair guy. Low on forks? I’ll hit Target tomorrow. Breech calf? Let me slide on this giant plastic glove.
The problem is, about once every few months, I have a day of moping dedicated to the lack of people thinking about me. It starts within the house as I remember Rich casually mentioning dry cleaning and me showing up days later with the pressed and starched load or when Zoe seems stuffy and I automatically pick up some sinus meds or when Zack complained about teenage face issues and I make Noxema magically appear. Then I look around…what about the stuff I’ve mentioned? Who is taking care of that?
Typically it ends there, within the house. But a few times, I’ve looked beyond the people I live with and wondered ‘wait, where were all the others?’ Where were they when Rich had his heart attack? I texted several people while sitting in the ER – why didn’t anyone come? Was it because I was still too new? Or because I hadn’t completely settled into a consistent circle of friends (Rich didn’t have a circle, his mom was out of town, my family too far)? Or was it because I didn’t specifically say to anyone ‘I need you?’ Which, frankly, I’m terrible at.
And, yes, these last three weeks have sent me into another mental mini-spiral. I felt like I’d told all the right people I was having surgery – I thought I’d wake up to phone calls and texts and Cinderella’s carriage waiting to bring me home on a bed of feather pillows. And, as mentioned before, this isn’t to dismiss the people who did reach out, I just definitely thought it’d be more than I could count on one stuffed-in-a-cast, bruised, swollen and stitched hand. And that’s the rub – that’s the 13 year old in me peeking out from the adult curtain she hides behind. Had I done something wrong? Had I said something wrong? Had I told everyone the wrong date, wrong limb, wrong person? And really, 13 year old Jyl, who cares? You don’t even eat casseroles!
I know I’m not alone in this. I know this is a common female thing – worrying about status and standing and popularity trends. I just thought, rounding the corner to fifty, I’d be over it by now. Which leads me to think one never really gets over it. That I’ll be 86, sitting in a home wondering why the nurse said hello to the 72 year old before me or why I didn’t get the jello or if my jokes aren’t really that funny.
This is often when Rich points out, again, that my level of thoughtfulness may be clouding my expectations of others. Followed by his favorite mantra…”But did you ask?’ Well, no, I didn’t specifically ask. I just dropped 42 hints.
Rich: “Hints aren’t the same as asking, hints are hints that most people don’t have time to decipher.”
Me: “Pass the pain meds, I need to erase this conversation.”
Rich: “Right, see, that’s asking.”
Me: “I’ll take two.”